White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It's not (www.theguardian.com)

 

Excerpts from essay by Robin diAngelo published in The Guardian


I am white.

As an academic, consultant and writer on white racial identity and race relations, I speak daily with other white people about the meaning of race in our lives. These conversations are critical because, by virtually every measure, racial inequality persists, and institutions continue to be overwhelmingly controlled by white people. While most of us see ourselves as “not racist”, we continue to reproduce racist outcomes and live segregated lives.

In the racial equity workshops I lead for American companies, I give participants one minute, uninterrupted, to answer the question: “How has your life been shaped by your race?” This is rarely a difficult question for people of color, but most white participants are unable to answer. I watch as they flail, some giving up altogether and waiting out the time, unable to sustain 60 seconds of this kind of reflection. This inability is not benign, and it certainly is not innocent. Suggesting that whiteness has no meaning creates an alienating – even hostile – climate for people of color working and living in predominantly white environments, and it does so in several ways.

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Thanks for posting this article and hosting the conversation Cissy. I attended an event recently where a variety of women of colour were speaking. One of the women insightfully remarked that with these panels white women are not also represented. She wanted to hear that perspective. I agreed with her point. Everyone's story is important. Our problem is that we have made only white stories important. I think we will have moved up a notch in awareness of our actual racial diversity when all members of our diverse family are welcomed at the table. In order to do that the white perspective has to be understood to be just one, not THE. And that's where articles like this are helpful with exposing our blindspots, assumptions, and privilege. I am a firm believer in #AllMotherNaturesChildren I have been educated and have worked with many diverse groups for many years and I still feel inept a lot of times. My go to responses then are #Humility and #Openness and I #StepBack and #Listen 

Although I'm white I can empathize with being invisible. I don't ever want to make anyone else feel that. Thanks Cissy for the referral to this article. Thanks Gail for the referral to the podcast. Thanks Rich for your input in the conversation.

It's not lost on me that here we are, a bunch of white people talking about race. Hopefully this helps us recognize the colour in the mirror and the privilege that has invisibly afforded us. 

Cissy, your trip to the market with your 5 year old reminds me of my most memorable encounter with race. I was 19 or twenty (so about 40 years ago) and traveling by bus from visiting relatives in NC to my home in central NY. There was a stopover around midnight in Washington DC. I decided to take a walk and went to a Mcdonalds. I walked in and the place was packed with African-American people. I wonder how I looked, probably in shock. A young woman offered the only empty seat in the place. She had a one year old who was quite friendly, she said that he probably felt comfortable with me because his dad was white and had a beard like mine. I probably wasn't much for conversation, because I would lose my ability to speak when uncomfortable. 

I often wonder if I am more or less implicitly racist than the average older white guy. I felt like an outsider in my own tribe because of my tendency to get into trouble for things I didn't remember doing, wouldn't hear the teacher talking to me until she dropped into her angry voice, and was given the nickname "cloud-nine and scrambled eggs" because of being dissociated so much. Not being able to think of the words to defend myself and staying alone in the hospital because of being sick so often may have refreshed my trauma regularly.

Rich Featherly posted:

The article makes good sense. As I was reading it, I noticed that as it spoke of white people like me feeling scared of seeming racist when interacting with people of other races, the article increases my nervousness for my interactions in the future. I rarely interact with people of other races because there are few in the area where I live and work. I don't know if I'm racist or not, but one thing I know that I am sometimes is clueless. So, there's always a chance that I'll be clueless about race if given the chance.

Hi Rich:

I hear you about being clueless as my nerves can certainly make me awkward. One of the things I'm learning is about being more aware of my race, of my whiteness, and not just being aware of race when I'm around people of color.

I remember the first time I went to a market with my daughter, who is Chinese, where everyone but me was also Asian. My daughter was 5, and in the parking lot said, "Here, everyone looks like me and you look different." I realized, in the market, I'd never been more aware of my own whiteness and how it's not a familiar or common feeling for me, as it is for my kid. I was 41 and hadn't thought much about it. She was 5 and just knew it because she had already experienced it.

The fact that I didn't know that, or realize it, or even ever have to think about it was a moment for me. I knew, intellectually, it was important for my daughter to  be in school where there are other kids of color. I knew it was important for her and was always glad there are many people of color in my extended family. Still,  felt pretty clueless and dumb, and a little terrified about what else I'ms till dumb about and don't even realize it. Because I'd read articles on what she might experience or need but it didn't mean I'd experienced it or anything like it myself. I didn't know in my life, in my skin, in my experience. I just knew something about race and being the only person of color in a room, as a concept I read in a book. That's better than nothing but it's not real life or real experience.

I try to have grace when I feel fury over sexism and bias towards those with disabilities or ACEs and remind myself that almost all of us have some parts of our lives where we have some power or more power than others, and some parts of our lives where we have less - and are often pretty clueless about the parts where we have plenty. I try to remind myself to focus on where/how I can do better when I get all self-righteous feeling about how others could/should be doing/knowing more, etc. 

I think we can do this work related to being aware of race even if we are not living in areas that are mostly white. We are still impacted by our race even when not interacting with others of a different race.

Similarly, I think those in the ACEs movement with no or low ACEs should do the same and think of ACE privilege as well as focusing mostly on "at risk" populations or the dangers of high ACEs. We are all impacted by the presence or absence of ACEs, and so we not only have higher risks with higher scores, we have more protections, less risks, with lower scores and that's also really consequential. It's exactly the scenario I hope for my kid because I want her to have the lower rates of most everything those with fewer ACEs have, as an adult, as well as less hard stuff to deal with as a kid.

I'd love to hear more presenters openly discuss that and speak in first person sharing ACE perspectives/experiences, no matter what the number is. That, to me, would be powerful. It also would mean we're all talking about all of us when we're talking about ACEs and that still feels missing/lacking in the wider, general conversations I hear in the ACEs movement. 

I think when it comes to race we all have to be talking about all of us, including those of us with benefits, privilege, advantage as well as those of us harmed, disadvantaged, discriminated against because they are all part of a larger and bigger understanding.  That's my take anyhow.

I appreciate your comments, and Gail's too, for making me think more on this topic and also if/how it relates to ACEs. Gail: I love the name of that podcast. I have to check it out!
Cis  

Actually my times of cluelessness were from male privilege rather than white. Remember, I seldom even see people of other races where I live.  I have however had many interactions with that mysterious group of humans called "women". Fortunately, I learned very early, without even needing to be told, to keep my hands and thoughts to myself.

HI Cissy - thanks for posting. I like everything that Robin diAngelo writes!  And  RIch, i hear you about feeling nervous about interactions and acting in a racist way. Cluelessness is a sign of our white privilege (and i am absolutly guitly of it I know!)  I

I listened to a great 'On Being' podcast last night with with Claudia Rankine which i HIGHLY recommend!  Title is 'How Can I Say This So We Can Stay in This Car Together?'.  Lots of things to ponder and suggestions for ways to talk about race.

The article makes good sense. As I was reading it, I noticed that as it spoke of white people like me feeling scared of seeming racist when interacting with people of other races, the article increases my nervousness for my interactions in the future. I rarely interact with people of other races because there are few in the area where I live and work. I don't know if I'm racist or not, but one thing I know that I am sometimes is clueless. So, there's always a chance that I'll be clueless about race if given the chance.

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